Season 3
37 Minutes

E96 | Raj Raghunathan | If You Are So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?

Raj Raghunathan is a Professor of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. Raj explores the impact that our judgments and decisions have on our happiness and fulfillment.

Raj's work has appeared in numerous top journals and mass media outlets. He writes about his views on happiness, creativity, and leadership on his popular Psychology Today blog, with over 2 million page views. Raj's six-week-long Coursera course on happiness - titled "Life of Happiness and Fulfillment" - has over 350,000 registered students from 196 countries and is one of the Top 100 Massive Open Online Courses of all time. His book If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? was released in 14 languages around the world.


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Raj Raghunathan  00:00

When you ask people and this is true across cultures, what is happiness mean to you? People often confuse the means to happiness with the state of happiness so people often give the answer happiness to me is money or happiness to me is love or happiness to me is eating good food. Those are all things that perhaps put these people in a state of happiness, their means, rather than happiness itself.

Achim Nowak  00:28

Hey, this is Achim Nowak, executive coach and host of the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. If life is a five act play, how will you spend your FOURTH ACT? I have conversations with exceptional humans who have created bold and  unexpected FOURTH ACTS, listen, and to be inspired. And please rate us and subscribe on whatever platform you are listening on. Let’s get started. It gives me great pleasure to welcome Raj Raghunathan to the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. Raj is a Professor of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. He is interested in exploring the impact that our judgments and decisions have on our happiness, and fulfillment. His work has appeared in many, many top journals and mass media outlets. But perhaps more importantly, Raj writes about his views on happiness, creativity and leadership on a very popular Psychology Today blog with over 2 million page views. Raj has a six week long Coursera course on happiness titled A life of happiness and fulfillment, which over 350,000 people have read registered in from 196 countries. And this is probably already outdated as I read it. And that has been one of the top 100 Massive Open Online Courses of all time, his book, and I love this title. And Raj every time I mentioned this title of somebody, people just beam was like a, like this beam of recognition. It is if you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy, was released in 14 languages around the world. So all of this to say, Raj has some thoughts and opinions about happiness. And we’re going to talk about it. Hi, Raj,

Raj Raghunathan  02:23

thank you very much, I can really a pleasure to see you.

Achim Nowak  02:26

Likewise, just by listening to your slight accent, you’re originally from India, your name gives it away. Right? And I’m curious, before we get to what you do now, and you were a young boy growing up in India. And I’m assuming you had parents who had ideas about what you should do in life, or you had ideas what you should do in life. What were you thinking about,

Raj Raghunathan  02:54

I grew up in several different places in India, my father was employed at the turns out the largest employer in the whole world, with about 2 million people employed by this organization called the Indian railways, country, you know, for 2 million people. And so it’s a transferable job, and you get transferred quite a bit every three years. So as I grew up all over India, and I love the trains, I love what I thought my dad was doing for his job. And my dream was to become also like him, you know, government, specifically an Indian railway government job, which has a lot of security and stability associated with it, and you get to travel around India, and you have a lot of maids and peons, and, you know, people to take care of you help. My mom had, I think, bigger ambitions for me, so to speak, because the job was good. But then she wanted me to, you know, travel the world and earn money. And all that is for me, because my father, I wanted to do that. But I think that even at that young age, say from eight, nine onwards, I remember having this distinct thought, when I was about eight years old or nine years old, that I just want to be happy. That’s what was most important to me. It just struck me at one point.

Achim Nowak  04:07

But did you have any idea of how you would get to be happy at that time? Or was it just the end goal?

Raj Raghunathan  04:13

So I just had this moment of clarity when I felt I wanted to be happy. I didn’t necessarily know how to get there. But I was interested in the topic, and I can’t remember now it’s such a long time back. And it’s just a kid, right? I mean, so but I remember this moment of clarity when I said, You know what, I want to be as happy.

Achim Nowak  04:33

Now, fast forward, you studied Marketing. I believe you went to NYU, right? Correct. And I also went to NYU, so it’s funny. It’s a very vivid place for me, NYU, and downtown Manhattan and I lived in the East Village and all of that. But as you just talked about happiness, you mentioned marketing and happiness are not automatically connected in my mind. So would you talk about that a little bit?

Raj Raghunathan  04:58

Sure. I certainly the field of marketing as in the business side of marketing, for that matter, business side of business today, I mean, not just Marketing, Finance and Accounting and Information System, people don’t normally associate those topics with happiness, a business in general is considered to be about money making money, it’s the bottom line, in reading, it’s associated more with being stressed out. But certainly on the consumer side, you can think that marketing is about marketing, happiness, you know, eventually, everyone’s interested in some kind of a positive emotional outcome or of using a product or service. And so from that standpoint, I guess you could say that marketers at some level market happiness. But business school isn’t associated with it, marketing departments aren’t associated with it. And so when he started having this, I guess, kind of almost like an existential question that came up in my mind after tenure, after I got that, hey, at the end of the day, if everything that we do in a business school, the knowledge that being part of the students isn’t necessarily leading them to lead a happier, more fulfilling life and by extension, leading other people that these people are associated with, you know, the MBA students, families, etc, the consumers to be happy to lead a happier life, then something missing in this picture, you know, so we’re importing the knowledge, but that knowledge isn’t necessarily translating to this end goal, which I assumed to be the goal that everybody or most people want. So that was a little bit troubling. For me, that was the case. And so I thought, happiness should be taught in the business or at least discussed. And so that’s when I started putting the course together.

Achim Nowak  06:39

Yeah. Because I know you’re right about all this. Like, I want to ask some questions that with anybody else, I would feel stupid asking these questions with you. I know I can. But because all our listeners could be thinking about this. And, and I’m originally from Germany. So I’m not from United States, we both live here. And I needed to think in different cultures, people may have a very different understanding of what happiness actually is. If you had to give us a your working understanding of happiness, since you teach courses on that, what would that be?

Raj Raghunathan  07:15

That’s a good question. So the first thing that I want to say here is that when you ask people, and this is true across cultures, what does happiness mean to you? People often confuse the means to happiness, with the state of happiness. So people often give the answer to happiness, to me is money or happiness, to me is love or happiness, to me is eating good food. Those are all things that perhaps put these people in a state of happiness, their means to happiness, rather than happiness itself. And I think that if you remove that confusion, so part of the, you know, differences across cultures is perhaps the confusion that in some cultures, maybe money or you know, success is seen as contributing more to happiness than, say, relationships or hobbies and things like that. When it gets to the psychological state of happiness itself, I think there is less confusion. I don’t think anybody in this world would disagree with the statement I’m about to make, which is that happiness, by and large, is a positive, emotional state that people desire to experience. Okay, I don’t think that anybody will disagree, maybe there’ll be some people who might, but by and large, people wouldn’t disagree. If you kind of like then make it a little more specific from that. I do think that there are idiosyncratic differences among people. There is research on it. So older people around the world in general prefer a positive psychological state of tranquility and serenity and calmness, compared to younger, younger people seek more excitement, more stimulation oriented, positive states, as opposed to more relaxing oriented positive states, Eastern cultures tend to seek more tranquil, serene, calm, emotional states, as opposed to Western cultures, which seek more like joy and exuberance, and things like that. I do think that there is some difference around the world. If you ask me specifically how I define happiness, I don’t think that I would define it differently from a lot of my esteemed colleagues in positive psychology word, which is that you can think of it as a kind of like a almost like a catch all or umbrella term that captures a lot of different kinds of positive experiences and emotional states, including love and joy and open interest in awe and gratitude, and, you know, laughter, pride, and so on and so forth. I think that you could also accommodate some not so necessarily, unambiguously positive experiences in this umbrella, such as the satisfaction that you get from working out at the gym, right? It’s a little bit of a soreness, maybe that even feels back by itself. It could be even a little bit painful, but in the context of seeing from the lens of where the pain is coming from, which is that I worked out and I push myself and that’s why feeling the soreness, it could actually be a positive thing. Likewise, seeing a horror movie, you know, in the moment, you might be scared, but you may also be during that moment, or a rollercoaster ride, and so on, so forth. And so with human beings, it gets a little bit complex, I would say. But in general, that’s how I would define happiness, an umbrella term that captures one way to think about happiness I came is like, I saw this as a definition in, you know, the geography of bliss, which is a great book by a guy called Eric Weiner. He says that somebody that he interviewed somewhere, I think, in Switzerland said that happiness to me, is not wanting to be somewhere else. Yeah, doing something else. Beautiful. So right now, you’re here, you’re angry, maybe you’re anxious, whatever it is, but you’d rather not be somewhere else doing something else. There you go. And mostly, we tend to want to be in that state, or like, we tend to think that I’d rather not be somewhere else doing something else when we are feeling these positive emotional states. But it can also happen for other states, and the state of presence could be described as happiness. You already

Achim Nowak  10:55

used the word research a little while ago, and I know you’ve conducted research, and I’m a little bit familiar with the research in the field. And not all the research necessarily agrees on it, how we find more happiness. But what I’m interested in, do you think about your research on there, and others? What has been most surprising to you about discoveries around happiness, what makes us happy, maybe things you didn’t expect, but research points, here or there.

Raj Raghunathan  11:27

One of the things that I did not expect was how functional happiness is that is that I don’t think it’s at all surprising that around the world, most people seek happiness, perhaps even think it is one of the most important goals, if not the most important goal. It’s almost axiomatic, you know, people want to be happy. And we ask them, Why do you want to be happy in like, I don’t know, I just want to be happy. You know, it’s like asking, Why do you want to eat something tasty? What because these. So the thing that I think I didn’t realize when I started teaching this course is how functional happy will be that is that the kind of positive consequences and the benefits that come as a result of being in a state of happiness or being in a positive state. So happier, people are healthier, happier, people are more collegial, happier, people are more creative, or objective, and so on and so forth. And so therefore, happier people earn more money, for example. So that was something of a bit of a surprise, which, when I started out teaching the course, I just wanted to talk about happiness and discuss happiness, because it seemed like an important goal. But I didn’t really have in my mind a business case for teaching happiness. But once I discovered all these functional benefits of happiness, it made a huge business case. In fact, I think that one of the most important thing that things that I think need to be studied in a business context, and organizations need to prioritize it, because happy people, our employees are more successful and productive and profitable. That was a big surprise.

Achim Nowak  12:56

What since you use the word functional? If you were to give our listeners some guidance, what are some behaviors of inclinations that we may have that actually get in the way where we get in the way of our own happiness? Like stuff that just, you know, doesn’t work?

Raj Raghunathan  13:13

Yeah, so I think that in general, there is a tendency to over emphasize extrinsic determinants of happiness. So by extrinsic I mean, things like rewards that you get for doing something that are monetary in nature, not just purely emotional. So, you know, getting a good salary or becoming more famous or achieving status, things like that. Not that they don’t increase happiness, they do increase happiness, but more in the short term, rather than being a sustainable source of happiness. And people often err on the side of over weighting them. And therefore, for example, given two jobs, both of which pays sufficient amount of money, but one of them is far more close to one’s intrinsic motivations and intrinsic interests and values, and the other one takes them away from these things, and they don’t really like the day to day things that they’d be doing in that job. That pays a lot more money. People haven’t, you know, there’s been some evidence showing that people have a tendency to kind of like, prefer the second job, even though happiness wise, the first job would be better, right? So I call this the fundamental happiness paradox. It’s a paradox, to me, at least in my collaborators, because people say that happiness is the most important thing. And yeah, we often see people sacrifice, happiness for the sake of other things that they say are less important to them like money or like fame and things like that. And so that’s one of the ways in which we kind of shoot ourselves in the foot. Right? Sometimes the ego that comes in the way you know, there’s a saying in relationships, right, you can either be happy or you can be right. And people often kind of emphasize being right more than being happy, things like that.

Achim Nowak  15:01

as I’m listening to you, I’m thinking about my own life. And you already talked about in general terms about maybe different things in different ages provide happiness. And my sense is that as I was younger, I got maybe not happiness, but satisfaction out of proving things to myself, like I can do this, I accomplish it. And, and as I became more accomplished, that became less and less important, I mean, that did not make me happy. So saying no to things, and creating space for more happiness became a lot more important. And easier. This is just as I’m listening to you. Can you help me make sense of that relate to what you know about happiness?

Raj Raghunathan  15:46

Right. So when you think about achieving things, right, getting a degree, or you’re accomplishing this really tough business challenge that has been thrown at you, and so on, and so forth, there tends to be a certain kind of an egotistical element to achieving those things that make you feel if you were to speak a specific emotion, it would be humanistic pride that I did it, you know, I’m better than other people. At the very least, I’m better than I was before, that kind of sense of pride. There is another reason why we see competence and mastery over things. And you know, and that has to do with, when you’re very good at doing something, let’s say branding, right, then you get into the so called flow states, where you completely lose track of time. And you know, and these flow states and the intensity of these flow states, and the quality of these flow states are better when you’re higher levels of skill, and you’re challenged to a higher level as closely it’s happened when you’re challenged, not too much, not too little, just the right amount. And these high flow states, as I call them, are really, really important in life. And if you often can get into high flow states, where it’s challenging is stretched, we’ll lose yourself in the activity or absorb. And it come out of it kind of physically, mentally exhausted, but very satisfied. I mean, that’s a huge determinant of happiness, right? So when we think about competence and achieving things, and rising up to challenges, there are these two different sources of satisfaction. One is more hubristic pride that comes usually from the outcome being a good one. And the other is these flow states that comes from the process rather than from the outcome. And I think that one way in which to interpret what you’re saying is that when you look back to your earlier days, I think that there was a greater emphasis on the first kind of happiness, you know, more pride, and that’s driven by society and what other people think of you, more so than your own internal sense of enjoyment of the activity and intrinsic motivation to do those activities. And it’s an interesting thing that as people grow older, I think, especially around our age, right, like past 50, people start to recognize that, hey, you know, there is no end to kind of being in the rat race of trying to prove to other people that I’m better than them or as better than others before he was something I’ve done, I’ve done this and so on. At some point, you realize that that doesn’t really give you sustained levels of satisfaction and happiness. And so you branch away from that into focusing more on what you want to do. And so earlier, while you might have taken up challenges or things like that said yes to people and stretched yourself really thin and not got enough sleep and not prioritized, intrinsically motivating things, there comes a point when which, and this happens not to everybody, by the way, you know, to people who are, I think, introspective and self aware and have kind of looked at some major themes that emerge from past experiences. So in other words, somewhat wise people and I don’t mean it in a, you know, Wiseguy sense. But yeah, so those are the people who arrive at that milestone and conclusion that look, you know, I’m not going to have limited time, you know, I’m not going to pursue all these things just because it makes somebody else happy or because you know, the I get praise or I get little more money here and things I’m going to focus on things that I really want to do. And so if I don’t want to do something, I’m gonna be clear about it. I’m just going to be obligate myself, you know, I think it’s a huge thing to D obligate yourself

Achim Nowak  19:10

away from your sponsor. That’s me. I invite you to go to the website associated with this podcast Fourth You will find other equally inspiring conversation with great humans. And you will also learn more about the my fourth act mastermind groups where cool people figure out how to chart their own fourth acts. Please check it out. And now back to the conversation. A book that greatly influenced me 25 years ago was flow the psychology of optimal experience by thinking of the Flowmaster be highly cheap. Tell me how you passed recently. And and are you you describe I bid so eloquently just just as you talked about, flow doesn’t just happen when we lie on the beach and do nothing flow happens and deep engagement and being challenged in a helpful way, in your book. And I think this is what I would like to talk to talk about, we tell for our listeners is you you describe the habits that you believe, foster more happiness, and you’re very specific in some of them. And I want to invite you to talk about them a little bit like what habits are more likely to faster happiness in our lives?

Raj Raghunathan  20:39

Yes, so let me talk about at least three here. And then if you’re interested in talking about more, I think these three are things that are more tangible, and people most people can relate to them. One is, we already talked about it a little bit, right, this idea of flow, right. So in general, pursuing something that gets you into these flow states, and these tend to be things that you’re intrinsically motivated by you do them anyway, even if you did not get paid money for them. But of course, if you get paid money for it, all the better, so I’m talking about things that come naturally to you that you’ve always enjoyed. And a lot of us have these so called hobbies, right, like dancing, and, you know, playing music or playing a sport, etc, in which we get close dates. But really, I mean, ideally, you should be finding for what work because you know, we spend about 80,000 200,000 hours in our lifetime, typically, typical person does, which is about, you know, twice the amount of time that we spend with our own families, it turns out, if you take our sleep time, huge amount of time, and if you’re not experiencing flow on a reasonably regular basis at work, it will be a big shame. That’s one habit. So clients have more flow in your life. And if you don’t find it at work, at least find it outside of work three hobbies. The second very important determinant is being kind and compassionate to other people, and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It doesn’t have to take a lot of effort. Just saying good things to people not being self centered, etc, is huge. And it’s kind of like a little bit one of those somewhat counterintuitive determinants of happiness, because you would think that if I’m helping other people, or if I’m being kind to other people, why should I feel happy, you know, they should feel happy? Why should I feel happy? The Dalai Lama said that if you want to make others happy, be compassionate. If you want to make yourself happy, be compassionate. It’s the same answer. And the reason one of the big reasons for it is that your narrative about who you are, it turns out is hugely important for your happiness. And when you’re helping other people out, that is your basic nature, you’re a kind and compassionate person. It has a dual effect that boosts your happiness. And one of those is that the narrative that you have about yourself is that I’m overflowing with things that I can give other people, you know, I’m abundant, my life is abundant. And that’s a huge, positive self narrative that helps other people out. And the other thing that happens as a result of that self narrative is that when you help other people out, they want to help you back in return. Right? Right. And so you set yourself up in these like positive, virtuous, upward spiraling relationships, right, which makes it much better for you. So if you think through it, then you know, helping other people out is actually one of the most powerful ways of being happy. In fact, when you’re feeling unhappy, as counterintuitive as it might sound going in helping other people out, will probably pull you out of that funk, a lot more.

Achim Nowak  23:38

I love that phrase, you just use upward spiraling relationships. Just fantastic. I want to bring it to you and I adored the, the quote you gave us from the geography of bliss, which I’m gonna paraphrase it is basically, just I don’t want to be anywhere else rather than where I am. If you had to give us a snapshot of how you in your own life experience, everyday happiness in big or small ways, like what does that look like for you? Yeah, you teach it I know you’re right about it. But what does it look like for you rise?

Raj Raghunathan  24:16

It’s kind of interesting, right? So you can seek experiences that are going to evoke this positive emotional state in you be joy, be it love, be open, gratitude, etc. Really, at a chemical level, they are triggering release of dopamine and serotonin and all that. And that’s a very standard way to try and become happier. So eat a good meal or you know, chat with friends. But the other thing that you can do, and you know, this actually kind of highlights why this definition is such a potentially powerful one, which is I’d rather not be somewhere else doing something else, right, is that you can kind of become present, even if the present is less than satisfactory. So you might be at a restaurant and chatting with somebody that is not going very well, it’s not very pleasant. But if you become pleasant, even though it’s not pleasant, right, you train your mind to become present, then it turns out that it boosts your happiness. And so that’s a much more powerful approach to being happier. Because chasing things and putting in place things that evoke positive states. Yeah, you know, that’s good. But often it’s not under your control. Because you need the cooperation of the external world for you to be able to achieve those things that give you that sense of pleasantness, for example, you go on vacation, and it starts raining, right? I mean, it’s not in your control. But on the other hand, if you can become present, more or less in any situation at any point, and let’s take all the extreme cases where you know, you’ve been tortured or whatever, but otherwise you can be present, then it turns out that you’ve kind of like turned the tables on happiness, in a sense, right? You’ve decided that you couldn’t be happy no matter what.

Achim Nowak  25:57

I chuckled as we’re having this conversation, because as we started, you know, you have had some physical pain all day, you know, you so let me know, like, we’re gonna have this conversation. But I’ve been physically uncomfortable. And

Raj Raghunathan  26:08

this is why I’ve been lifting my arm up, because it’s like, a pinched nerve in the back with my Yeah, yeah. So

Achim Nowak  26:13

if we use your present state, as an example, you know, where you have all sorts of reasons to actually be distracted and not be present, you know, and we all have had experienced physical pains and physical discomfort. So how do you get present in the middle of physical discomfort and pain?

Raj Raghunathan  26:32

Obviously, when the pain is very extreme, it’s difficult to do it, right. But the idea is to observe the pain on a moment to moment basis without any additional baggage of the mind, no commentary about the pain and the consequences, the pain going to last, you know, what does it mean for my health? All those things, you know, those are all valid questions to ask and probably productive questions to ask in order to kind of diagnose the cause of the pain and treat it etc. But if you want to be present with the pain, it really means observing the pain, what does it mean, you know, the pain is a word, right? But it’s referring to an experience. And so being present means kind of like, essentially, having the experience rather than focusing on the word pain, so when you do that, is a cliche, right. But, you know, you experience the pain, but there is no suffering, or there’s very little suffering that accompanies the pain. The suffering comes from the mental chatter, so to speak, right, that typically accompanies especially negative experiences like pain, as opposed to positive ones. And so when you get rid of the mental chatter, or minimize it, then it’s pain. Sure, but there’s no suffering. And it turns out that that is much more pleasant than plain in plus suffering. And in fact, if you dial up the curiosity, now, there’s a really interesting book called curious by Todd Kashdan, where he talks about how, you know, in any situation, you can think about two dimensions. One is like how curious you are intellectually curious, for example, about that, and you can dial it up or down. And the other is how it makes you feel, you know, positive or negative, but you can dial up that, you know, focus on the feelings. And so, being present is kind of like dialing up the curiosity knob a lot. Okay. And when you do that, then really what we talk about as pain categories is pain is an experience, really, I mean, ultimately, an experience just as pleasure or positive experiences or experiences. And if you take out the value judgment, or the vertical dimension, right, this is bad, that is good. And focus on the horizontal dimension of how is this different from another experience, that is what I mean by turning up the curiosity knob, then you’re present, and when you’re able to do it, and then there’s a sense of calmness, at the very least that comes in terms of the, the state that you’re experiencing, if not, in fact, a sense of, you know, there’s another book that I want to refer to here called Search Inside Yourself by Chang Ming dad. And he talks about this concept of non energetic joy. So basically, the idea is that even without putting any effort into something, no energy has gone into it, you feel joyful, you know. So it’s just like, you recognize your inner nature at some level as being really by default being one of joyfulness or happiness or positive, whatever you want to call it. And so even in pain, you can actually be somewhat joyful indoor sounds like contradictory at some level, but state of presence can give you a glimpse into how that can be done.

Achim Nowak  29:26

So since you, you just talk a lot about curiosity and what I’m thinking about and the listeners of the podcast tend to be people who have been very successful in life. They’re accomplished. They’re not yearning for more extrinsic validation that they have a sense that might be more to explore. When I think about you, you’re celebrated, you’re successful. My hunch is and I could be really wrong is that you? Frequently being asked to do things while you might go I’ve done this already like This is not new anymore, I maybe don’t want to do this, I want to do something else. So your pure curiosity about life, what you want to investigate, explore at this stage in your life accomplished, you don’t have anything to prove to anybody really? What tickles your fancy are what? What comes up for you around that?

Raj Raghunathan  30:25

Yeah, it’s a great question. Actually don’t feel the sense of blase Ness, about life, in the job that I have, you know, I feel very lucky to be in a teaching and research profession where I can pick my projects, and pick my classes, of course, I’ve been teaching happiness for a very, very long time. But as any student of any discipline will know, you know, you’re never really a Master, I mean, you’re or rather, I should say that you’re always there’s always scope for learning, right. And that can keep you on your toes. And so every interview, every podcast is different. And some of the podcasts and I’m really enjoying this one, I enjoy a little bit more, just because I think that the person asking me the questions is coming from a place that seems compatible with my level of don’t necessarily want to use a vertical dimension here to describe it. But I want to use the word depth, okay, that comes to me right now that it’s coming at it from a place of deeper understanding of things. And it’s not necessarily a vertical dimension in the sense of being evaluated. And deep is better than shallow, but it’s just a matter of life’s experiences. And I think that if you’ve been through more ups and downs, then you end up arriving at a place that’s deeper. And I think I get that sense in this interview. And so in the interviews that don’t go that way, and it’s a little more shallow, I have to admit that it does get a little bit more boring, or I’m not as into it, or the stimulus, namely the interview an interviewer aren’t pulling me into a place of presence. And so I have to impose presence on that interview, for example. And the way to do it would be to look at the question and look at it from the perspective of why the person is coming, asking me this question. And then see if I can make it deeper, so to speak, right? Because that’s what is going to be stimulation stimulating for me. And so I kind of take that question and see if I can connect it to a deeper point, and see if I can kind of traverse that trajectory from what I think of as a more shallow question. And maybe an example here will help avoid a shallow question. But basically, that kind of thing,

Achim Nowak  32:40

where you’ve done such a wonderful job of, for me anyway, adding layers and layers of understanding of what happiness is, or can be, and in a way, redefining it. And I want to conclude with this question, because we both know, we’ll have a lot of friends. And we’re gonna call it the World Happiness movement, you know, organizations that celebrate happiness. And one thing that has always surprised me when I have publicly associated myself with folks who celebrate happiness. People often say to me, yeah, but you can’t be happy all the time. No, like, there’s almost the putt or something. It’s more important to be content and not happy and all those arguments against happiness against points I actually haven’t made, but I know that word happiness tends to trigger the possibility that tends to target something deep in people. What are your thoughts around that?

Raj Raghunathan  33:42

That’s a great question again. And honestly, I don’t have any objection to somebody saying that, you know, I prioritize contentment, more, I prioritize meaningfulness, more fulfillment more, you know, these are all labels that are in the ballpark of happiness, in my opinion, okay. I do think that I have a little more of reaction, or more things to say, when somebody says that he can’t be happy all the time. I think that that becomes a bit more of a definitional issue of what you mean by happiness. And I think that it’s certainly true that you can’t have pleasure all the time. You can’t, like you know, always be eating something tasty, you can’t always be feeling a sense of physically kind of, you know, feeling the sense of positivity, like when you take a shower, the first really, if you’re cold, and you you know, switch the shower on, it’s warm and first 10 seconds, maybe a minute, maybe even two minutes feel really pleasurable, but it’s going to go away after a while. Right. So pleasure doesn’t last a long time. But certainly this definition that we’re coming back to now, which is not being anywhere else doing something else. That seems like it could be achieved all the time. And if that is happiness to you, then it seems like it can be sustained. And one question I posed to people who asked me this question, I’d be curious to see if somebody asks you this question. If you were to pose this question back to them. I because what are your experiences? I’ve always found it, like a very powerful question to ask these people who say, you can’t be happy all the time, I asked him, Do you know somebody who’s depressed most of us all the time? Invariably, particularly in the United States, which is actually a sad thing as a sidenote that everybody seems to know somebody like that. Right? Then I asked him, if somebody can be done, then why can’t the opposite of that be true? Right? And then they think about and say, oh, yeah, you know, the assumption underlying this idea that you can’t be happy all the time often is that you need darkness, you need sadness, and sorrow, relative comparison to that state that makes you happy. Okay. And so a corollary of that is that you can’t be sad all the time, either. Because in order for you to feel sad, you need the opposite of that, contrast it. But then if you show them that there are people in your own life that you know, who are depressed all the time. So it doesn’t seem like you need that contrast for these people, at least, then why can’t the opposite of that be true? Right. So I don’t know. So those are some of the thoughts I have.

Achim Nowak  36:01

So let’s, let’s just end with that question. Why can’t it be true? I love that. There are many places to find you. And I’m sure that people who are listening to us going I want to learn more about where where can find Raj and his work. So where where would you like to direct them?

Raj Raghunathan  36:19

Yeah, so I have a website that’s titled Happy Happy SmartStart Oh, it’s kind of like a one stop shop of the things that I do. There are some good resources there. There’s a link to my Coursera course my edX course. And some articles, you’ve mentioned, the Psychology Today blog, you know, those articles are there too. There’s some good exercises that people can do. So that is where I would lead them to happy SmartStop norm.

Achim Nowak  36:43

Thank you for this conversation. And I want to release this episode around the world happiness day. Wondering I believe you’re going to be in Miami for in person is that correct?

Raj Raghunathan  36:53

Wow. That’s true. That is true. So well, happiness days, the 20th of March. I’m going to be there on the 23rd I believe is when I learned

Achim Nowak  37:00

I expect to see you in person when you Miami. So I look forward to that.

Raj Raghunathan  37:03

Yeah, me too. I can take care. This is

Achim Nowak  37:09

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